Bagpipes' siren call teaches life lessons

Traditional instruments used to instil teamwork and discipline

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Students in tough areas of Scotland are being taught to play traditional instruments in a bid to boost attainment - and because bagpipes and drums hold more "kudos" than a cello.

Fife Council is to make traditional Scottish music an option in more of its schools to try to teach its students skills associated with musicianship, such as self-discipline, the ability to work in a team and perseverance.

According to the local authority, it has chosen bagpipes and drums because they are held in greater esteem in tougher neighbourhoods than more classical instruments.

"If you're in a tough area, there's perhaps more kudos attached to going down the street with a drum than a cello, but there's also a history there and a natural interest," said John McLaughlin, area education officer for Levenmouth and north-east Fife. "In some parts of Fife, there's a real piping tradition, and it's in these areas that we have concentrated our efforts."

The council and school leaders believe the benefits of learning a traditional instrument are wide-ranging. The authority wants to develop the "skills and attributes" that will help students to get jobs or continue their education.

"These include timekeeping, personal discipline and organisation, being able to stick at things when they get tough and team working," Mr McLaughlin said.

The number of children learning the instruments has already risen substantially over the past three years, with more than 300 taking piping or drumming lessons, and many courses are oversubscribed.

Schools and colleges such as Lochgelly High and Madras College have had their own thriving pipe bands for some time. And now other institutions are benefiting.

This year, 176 students in two clusters of schools and one secondary - Beath High and its feeder schools; Kirkland High School and Community College and its feeder schools; and Buckhaven High - will learn the pipes or drums.

Lynne Miller, who recently joined Madras College from Buckhaven, where she was principal teacher for the performing arts, said: "Already the drumming instructor has set up a Friday lunchtime group at Buckhaven. They get a great deal out of playing together - it's fantastic for confidence and self-esteem."

So far, more than pound;30,000 has been invested in instruments and tuition at Buckhaven and Kirkland, paid for through the Youth Music Initiative, costing roughly pound;40,000 per year.

Lochgelly High, meanwhile, keeps its band going despite being in an area of high unemployment. And council officers found that all pipe band members experienced positive outcomes after leaving school.

"Being in the band and learning these skills - what I would describe as employability skills - obviously gave them the confidence to engage in a meaningful way," Mr McLaughlin said.

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